Quirky group blends styles into pop gems

The Columbus Dispatch, March 3, 2013
by Curtis Schieber

Before nerd ruled the earth--and long before the sound of nerd was based in Brooklyn--there was They Might Be Giants, a square band from the other side of the bridge that made some of the catchiest alternative music of the '80s. Last night in the Newport Music Hall the two founding Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell, with their band, proved irrepressible still.

Showcasing a bit of material from the its upcoming Nanobots album, the group also reaffirmed that its clever brand of pop, which blends rock, garage, new wave, music hall, reggae and even polka, is neither shop-worn, nor anachronistic.

In fact, the title track from its new album was one of the evening's highlights. A bit delivered in robot harmony advertised the collection's release--and its mysterious early availability in the lobby. The song marvelously found a melodic gold in its space-age design that shamed every auto-tuned pop hit currently heard on the radio dial.

It was an ingenious example of the leaders' gift for a tune, a skill that created perhaps 500 songs delivered fresh daily from their answering machine during the late-'80s in the "Dial-A-Song" project.

That talent was heard last night not only in new songs, but recalled in classics such as "When Will You Die," "Whistling In The Dark," and "Birdhouse In Your Soul."The last was introduced as the one song not only serious and casual fans, but those dragged along, would recognize.

The tune would have actually appealed to anyone without any exposure at all.

They Might Be Giants was named after a spirited film in which George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward live an insular, imagined life. The band, too, shares a joke with its audience. Last night, routines such as one that divided the crowd into apes and humans and another that featured a video presentation by two rapping sock characters, might have skirted indulgence but were natural crowd pleasers.

Vandaveer, a duo of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin accompanied by a friend on steel guitar, opened the show with a short set full of vintage Americana. Samples from the band's upcoming album Oh, Willie, Please, showed its commitment to aged folk ballads and displayed considerable skill.